Saturday, April 30, 2011

Welcome home, Dad

Moving day finally arrived, today. We drove up to Dad’s stopping at Foster’s Shoes (est. 1946 and still operating from the same small metal building that I remember from the 1960’s). Lisa purchased a couple pairs of shoes. Who knows when she’ll have a chance to go bargain hunting there again. We stopped again at H&M Country Store where Lisa bought some cannas to plant in our front yard. We laughed at the treacherous sounding Amish canna bulbs.

Dad had already loaded his van when we pulled up in his driveway, but we went through the house finding little useful items that should not be left behind. We did leave the can of Folgers coffee that has been in the kitchen since Mom was alive (Dad is not a coffee drinker). In Granny’s old bedroom, Gabby found a small photo album containing pictures of Mom. She was laughing in the photos. I remember that she was nearly always laughing. If she knew that we left behind her Folgers, she’d be laughing now.

As moving days go, today was perhaps anticlimactic. We’ve spent weeks preparing for Dad to come, and all that work made today flow smoothly. Most of Dad’s furniture has been in our garage since snow was still falling, but we recently repaired the traces and glides in dresser drawers and applied Restore-a-Finish to every surface. Earlier this week, we vacated the master bedroom for the guest bedroom upstairs. We placed Dad’s old furniture in our old room. It looked nice there waiting for him to come home.

Tonight after dinner, and after running a few errands, we helped Dad settle in. By 9 PM we’d hung his pictures on his walls. The room looks as if Dad has been living with us for a long time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Aroma of life unto life

According to John chapter 12, on the day before Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, a large crowd of Jews came to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. The night before, Mary, the sister of Lazarus anointed Jesus feet with nard. The value of the nard was 300 denarii or a year’s wages. She didn’t use it all. After Judas complained (because he was a thief), Jesus told him, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.”

In the Gospels there are three accounts of Jesus’ anointing by women. The first in Luke 7, a sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with perfume, and wiped them with her hair. If we witnessed such behavior today, we would probably sign the woman up for a psych evaluation. Jesus explained, “. . . her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” No doubt, Mary, sister of Lazarus, loved much, too, for she received her brother back from the dead. Likewise, the woman who on Tuesday evening of the Passion Week anointed Jesus head with perfume did something Jesus commended. He said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, whenever this gospel is preached in the world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

The circumstances of the three anointings of Jesus by women are as follows:
  • The first occurred early in Jesus’ ministry in the hill country of Galilee and recalls Isaiah 52:7:
    How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
    that publisheth peace;
    that bringeth good tidings of good,
    that publisheth salvation;
    that saith unto Zion,
    Thy God reigneth!
  • The second anointing occurred at the Sabbath meal before the Triumphal Entry. Again, this seems to reflect Isaiah 52:7. Jesus feet were anointed before he descended the Mount of Olives and climbed Mount Zion to the temple in Jerusalem.
  • The third anointing, which happened on Tuesday evening, Jesus’ last evening in Bethany before his crucifixion, a woman anointed his head (not his feet this time) with perfume. This, of course, recalls Psalm 133 a Psalm of Ascent that was sung as worshipers approached the temple:

    Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
    for brethren to dwell together in unity!

    It is like the precious ointment upon the head,
    that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard:
    that went down to the skirts of his garments;

    As the dew of Hermon,
    and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion:
    for there the LORD commanded the blessing,
    even life for evermore.

This week, I received invitations from two churches for Easter egg hunts with promised appearances of the Easter Bunny. On the day when we should be commemorating the love which bought our propitiation churches may teach a Christ crucified and risen again, but they’ll use the Easter Bunny for a mendacious bait and switch. They’ll muddy the message of the Gospel with Jelly Bellies and chocolate. They’ll prove that they’ve so lost sight of the beauty of the Gospel, that they have to resort to fiction and gimmicks. They’ll say it is an evangelistic outreach, but in reality they are ashamed of the Gospel.

Unlike the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with perfume, and wiped them with her hair; unlike Mary who also anointed Jesus feet with nard and wiped them with her hair after receiving Lazarus back from the grave; and unlike the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ head in the house of Simon the leper; churches today just don’t love too much. They certainly don’t love enough to proclaim the truth in purity. Do they love little because they have been forgiven little? Perhaps they have been forgiven not at all.

The Gospel will always be offensive to some. Paul said that we are the fragrance of Christ. Imagine Jesus after his anointings. John says, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” As the fragrance of Christ, Paul says that to some we are an aroma of death to death, but to the ones being saved we are an aroma of life unto life. (Read 2 Corinthians 2)

Why should churches try to accommodate those likely to be offended by the Gospel at the expense of those who might find it an aroma of “life forevermore?”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If I be lifted up

In the 12th chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle John records an account during the Passion Week where some Greeks came to the temple with the intent of speaking to Jesus. They did not approach Jesus directly, and there is no indication that Jesus ever spoke to them. In this, and many other passages in the Gospels, what Jesus does not do reveals much about his personality.

The Greeks first approached Phillip saying, “Master, we wish to see Jesus.” Phillip responds by approaching Andrew. Then Andrew and Phillip together approached Jesus. What you see developing here is a nice ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Greeks don’t approach Jesus directly. They go to Phillip. Phillip, though his is one of the twelve, does not approach Jesus directly, he goes first to Andrew. Together Phillip and Andrew approach Jesus to tell him that the Greeks wished to see him. Jesus’ response is hardly like an answer. It was certainly not the yea or nay for which they and the Greeks were looking. They might have felt as if they were being ignored.
And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.
Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. 
Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
(John 12:23-32)
When Jesus said, “if I be lifted up from the earth” was speaking of his crucifixion. The people understood him perfectly regarding his metaphor (verses 33-34).

Back to the Greeks whose inquiry launched this discourse: Jesus didn’t recognize the ecclesiastical hierarchy that the Greeks presumed existed. He did not pass a message down the chain of command. Rather he spoke to the whole crowd saying, “if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.” This included the Greeks! Jesus wasn’t giving the Greeks the brush off; he probably was rebuking the disciples for assuming they needed to ask. The Greeks may not have had the satisfaction of speaking with Jesus, but if so, it was only because they asked Phillip instead of approaching Jesus directly. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to draw men—even the Greeks—to himself.

Jesus’ message is never come to my disciples or come to my religion; rather, he implores men saying, come to me. Waiting in line holding your breath to get permission is just a big waste of time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

A long time ago, I attended a security conference wherein the speaker debunked the concept of password security. Passwords, even passwords with character substitutions were worthless. After all, hackers are geeks, too, and they know all the standard character substitutions. Pass phrases; however, are nearly impossible to decipher because their length and complexity. This all made sense to me, and I started using Shakespeare quotations for passwords. For database connection strings my favorite pass phrase was, "When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes." You might recognize it as Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIX now, but would you have guessed it then? Besides how many hackers do you know who recite Shakespeare?

Today, I recalled Shakespeare as I was discussing with Claire the absolute continuity of the Passion Week presented in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I was taken by John's description of the rulers which believed in Jesus, but would not admit it for fear of men.

I showed Claire how one might think the passages were flawed recollections, but upon closer observation they supported each other with absolute synchronicity, making them entirely credible records of the events.

John's Gospel, for instance, follows two calendars. He follows the Julian calendar when discussing the time of day, but he follows the traditional Hebrew calendar when writing about the Passover. Matthew, Mark, and Luke mostly follow the Diaspora calendar when referring to both days and hours. This makes sense. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospel accounts before the destruction of Jerusalem. John wrote his account years after the temple and its sacrificial system was destroyed. Why would John follow the defunct Diaspora calendar? Moreover, John was apparently the only disciple acquainted with Nicodemus. In fact, clues in John's gospel show that he was well known and accepted among the Pharisees and Sadducees. John's account of the crucifixion follows the traditional Hebrew calendar because his subjects, Joseph and Nicodemus were both Pharisees.

Once the two calendars are understood, Matthew can say that on the day of the Crucifixion, there was darkness from the 6th hour until the 9th hour, and John can say that at the 6th hour Jesus was standing before Pilate. There is no disagreement, the number assignments come from the Diaspora in Matthew's account, but from the Julian calendar according to John's account.

Because Matthew and Mark follow the Diaspora calendar, they refer to Wednesday of the passion week as the "first day of Unleavened Bread." Likewise, Luke can refer to the Wednesday evening meal as the Passover, while John calls Thursday, "the day of preparation for the Passover."

The different calendars were not the different means of labeling the same day. The Diaspora began each day in the morning at dawn, while the traditional Hebrew calendar begins each day at the evening twilight. Consequently, to those following the Diaspora calendar, Wednesday--the day the lambs were slaughtered--was both the day of the preparation and day of the Passover meal. Nevertheless, to the followers of the traditional Hebrew calendar, the day of preparation would not begin until the evening twilight on Wednesday. According to the traditional calendar, the lamb could not have been sacrificed until "between the twilights of Wednesday and Thursday." According to the Diaspora calendar, Wednesday was the day the Lambs were slaughtered. In effect, you have the same holiday two days in a row depending on your religious denomination.

Because John writes according to the traditional Hebrew calendar, Thursday, was the day of preparation. Because Thursday's crucifixion took place on the day of preparation, Joseph and Nicodemus were hurried to prepare Jesus for burial according to John's Gospel. Matthew refers to Friday as the "day after the preparation" when he says that the Pharisees and the chief priests went to ask Pilate to guard Jesus tomb for 3 days. Matthew acknowledges that there were two calendars in effect. When referring to the day of preparation, he is discussing the Pharisees which followed the traditional calendar otherwise, he used the calendar that was most prevalent at the time.

Some Christians still celebrate Good Friday as the day of the crucifixion, but they depend entirely on a Roman calendar to find parts of three days between the burial and resurrection. The audience of the Old Testament prophecies were not the Romans, but rather the Jews. Jesus, too, prophesied that he would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. A Thursday burial before the evening twilight would put the resurrection on schedule for sometime after a Saturday evening twilight. In fact, the Gospels teach that Jesus rose from the dead sometime before the morning twilight on Sunday.

When considering the four accounts of the Gospel writers, each emphasizing his own perspective, yet in perfect agreement regarding the timing of events, their testimony is certainly true (though church tradition would make each man's account somewhat less than true). While we have the evidence of the Gospels, those observing Jesus in Bethany and Jerusalem were presented with incontrovertible evidence to his divine nature.

Faith requires little evidence. Evidence, however, condemns those who refuse to believe. John writes of the religious rulers, saying, 
Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
To such as these, Jesus said, "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." Jesus implored them to come out of the darkness in which they were held by their fear of men. He asked them to come into the light where they could become "children of light."

Shakespeare knew of the compelling pressure of "men's eyes". He used his "disgrace" as a means of wooing a lover. He told the object of his Sonnet XXIX something to the effect you're very important to me because you're all that I have. (Not that there's anything wrong with that; Shakespeare just makes it sound better.)

Nevertheless, for us the question abides, How important is God's favor to us? Do we love the praise of men more than the praise of God? Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for believers, saying, "I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."

To be a follower of Christ is to be hated by the world. So, what do we do with the evidence of the Gospels? Do we insist that we need more proof? So did the religious leaders demand more miracles from Jesus. Do we believe in the same way that some the chief rulers believed in Jesus? Do we believe secretly with reservation? Do we believe as long as no one considers us too strange?

Or do we believe with the romantic abandon of a Shakespearean sonnet?